DARLINGTON, S.C. — Tradition returned to Darlington Raceway over Labor Day weekend, and it was exactly what NASCAR needed.
Missouri’s Carl Edwards came back from two laps down, getting the lead through a solid late-race pit stop and held to win the Bojangles’ Southern 500. For the first time in 12 years, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 was held on Labor Day weekend, and many race teams, NASCAR, its race teams, and its fans participated in what was called a #NASCARThrowback.
A year ago, track President Chip Wile laid out a five-year plan to make Darlington Raceway a place to celebrate the past heroes of racing. It took active participation to make the race weekend special, and plenty of people pitched in. Sponsors like Budweiser and Bass Pro Shops used their old logos and designs and implemented them on race cars. Other teams decided to run paint schemes that reminded fans of the days when the Pettys, Gant, Yarborough, Allisons, and Pearson took to the 1.366-mile track.
Earning the fan vote for favorite paint scheme of the weekend was Kyle Larson, whose Mello Yello 42 Chevrolet took fans back to the early 1990s when Kyle Petty ran the scheme, or when Cole Trickle raced his way to victory in “Days of Thunder.” The number of race teams that participated in running a special scheme highly exceeded the track’s expectations, Wile said last week. Drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. hope that all teams run one next year.
Joining in on the fun was NBC Sports, who provided the telecast for the weekend. Midway through Sunday’s race, legendary broadcasters Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett took over in the booth to call the race. Although Buddy Baker likely would have joined them if not for his passing earlier this summer, his presence was felt all weekend long, as Clint Bowyer’s car was hand-painted to look like Baker’s car from 1974.
NASCAR opted for a low-downforce package which provided for some exciting lead changes, while Goodyear went with a softer tire, making tire management crucial. In then end, a late race caution set up race-winner Edwards with a chance for a great pit stop. His pit crew delivered, moving him up two spots to the lead where he’d stay for the final eight laps.
“I loved it. This is as good as it gets,” Edwards said. “This is what it’s about — sliding cars, the tires are falling off. If there’s any way we can run this in the Chase, I hope we do it.”
With one weekend left before the chase cutoff at Richmond, 11 drivers are officially locked into the chase. Jamie McMurray will make the chase for the first time in his career provided he starts the race. Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Paul Menard also control their own destiny if they can have strong runs.
Ryan DeCosta is the sports reporter for the Elkin Tribune and Yadkin Ripple. He may be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.